Issue 7-2, January 10, 2013
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Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2013
In This Issue
Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Mississippi Heat bandleader Pierre Lacocque.
We have 4 music reviews for you! Mark Thompson reviews a new release from Shaun Murphy. Marty Gunther reviews a new release from Sunny Crownover. Rex Bartholomew reviews a new album from Kenny Lavitz. Jim Kanavy reviews a new release from Cassie Taylor. We have the latest in Blues Society news from around the globe. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
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Featured Blues Interview - Pierre Lacocque
Sometimes things don’t go as planned.
And sometimes, that’s the best plan of all.
Birthed out of a late-night jam session at Chicago’s Café Lura back in 1991, Mississippi Heat is a living, breathing case study of how a blues band can be a fluid entity, an organism made of ever-changing parts, while also becoming one of the most durable and successful blues outfits on the scene today.
While earliest members Jon McDonald, Robert Covington and Bob Stroger have all left the ranks of Mississippi Heat, there has been one constant presence in a band that has seen over a dozen different musicians pass in and out over the past two decades – harpist, songwriter, producer and bandleader Pierre Lacocque.
And Lacocque, while in a an ideal world would probably prefer to be able to count on the same cast of characters album after album, really doesn’t seem fazed one little bit by Mississippi Heat’s revolving door of players.
“Well, I love it when there’s a consistent lineup. We do have a narrow pool of what I would call ‘permanent guests’ that play with us and we can count on when we need them,” he said. “But no, I am very much in favor of a stable lineup. But the bottom line for me is - I love what I do. We’ve gone through a lot of changes with personnel over the years, but this is still a real joy for me to be able to make music with this band.”
In addition to Lacocque, Mississippi Heat is currently comprised of drummer Kenny ‘Beady Eyes’ Smith, bassist Joseph Veloz, guitar player Billy Satterfield and vocalist Inetta Visor.
Smith has been with the band since 1997, Visor joined in 2001 and Veloz and Satterfield came on board in 2011.
When you get right down to the nitty-gritty about why Lacocque has had so many different band-mates shuffle through Mississippi Heat, you’ll find it’s more about simple economics than it is about what songs to play.
“The problem over the years has been money. People need to make money in order to eat and survive and to be a full-time member of Mississippi Heat may not give a musician the complete opportunity they need to earn enough money to pay the rent and buy groceries. And I understand that,” he said. “So the revolving (players) has more to do with necessity than it does with musical philosophy.”
That makes the fact that Mississippi Heat recently celebrated their 20th year of recording with the excellent Delta Bound (Delmark Records) even more noteworthy.
“I knew this was going to be an anniversary release and I definitely had a vision of the guests that I wanted to play on it,” Lacocque said. “Everyone was really excited about this project. I went in with the hope that the delivery and the mixing of the musicians would turn out like I had envisioned, and they did. I couldn’t be happier with the way this one turned out.”
The guests on Delta Bound include Carl Weathersby and Chubby Carrier, along with former Mississippi Heat members Deitra Farr and Billy Flynn.
That’s part of the reason that blues lover far and wide have rushed to the Mississippi Heat 20th anniversary party, gobbling up Delta Bound quicker than a pack of hungry teenagers.
“Well, we’re number one on the Living Blues radio charts, so the response has been phenomenal,” said Lacocque. “I really think it’s the best one we’ve done – it’s our 10th album in 20 years – and the response has been amazing, all across the board. We put an enormous amount of work into this one and we paid a lot of attention to the sound and the mixing of this one.”
The old saying that time flies when you’re having fun seems especially true in Mississippi Heat’s case.
“It feels amazing. It went pretty fast, you know? I do what I love to do and the years are counting now,” Lacocque said. “Things are always moving fast for us – traveling and recording. So the years have added up really fast. But these have been meaningful years for me. Those have been very meaningful and the most significant years of my adult life.”
Lacocque, who was born in Israel and then lived in Germany, France and Belgium, before landing in Chicago at the age of 16, doesn’t seem at all content to just rehash all the licks and songs that have become standards of the genre since the 1950s.
But at the same time, he’s not willing to completely turn his back on all the wondrous blues that have helped to build the art form, either.
That could be why Mississippi Heat’s ‘mission statement’ is “Traditional Blues with a Unique Sound.”
“We are very attracted to the traditional Chicago blues and the Chicago blues sound, for sure. But we want to bring something fresh and exciting to the culture as well,” he said. “Come up with new ideas and keep advancing things. You can continue to come up with new things, while also keeping them steeped in tradition, as well. That’s our approach to the blues.”
According to Lacocque, if the music first doesn’t move the artist, there’s little chance that it will have any kind of lasting effect on an audience, either.
“As a harmonica player, I try not to repeat the same solos, note-for-note. Some of the contemporary harmonica players on the scene are very good at that,” he said. “But for me, I try to make things as fresh and exciting as I can – for me – and try to find a unique angle that is close to my heart. But at the same time, I want to be respectful to tradition. Little Walter is one of my favorite players and I know his solos by heart. That doesn’t mean that I can play them all, but the thing is, to repeat week after week and gig after gig the same solo by Little Walter … first off, I may not be able to do them as well (as Little Walter did) and secondly, it may not excite me to play them. I want to live the moment and make it as vibrant as I can, complete with a sense of urgency in the here and now.”
Lacocque’s command of a harmonica is fully evident on the cut “Lemon Twist” although that instrumental tune almost didn’t see the light of day.
“I was not going to put it on the album, but then I started to think about it and decided maybe it wasn’t too bad and should go on there,” said Lacocque. “So I did put it on there and low-and-behold, it was extremely well received, so you just never know.”
Although Mississippi Heat has had Lacocque’s fingerprints all over the output of the band since day one, that doesn’t mean that the group is simply a backing band for the harpist. Now, just as it was back in the earliest days of Mississippi Heat, the group is in every sense a band, with input coming from all corners of the unit.
“Well, I of course play a solo type of instrument, but I’m very much into an ensemble kind of sound. I like to share and spread things around. For example, if I hear a xylophone on a song, I’m going to try and get a xylophone on that song. And that’s what we did for “Going to St. Louis.” Or if I happen to hear an accordion on a song – like in “New Orleans Man” – then I’ll bring in Chubby Carrier to play accordion on that song,” he said. “But I do very much like the ensemble sound of a band … I don’t want this to be just a showcase for the harmonica. Of course, I write the songs and I do play harmonica, so that element is present, but I don’t want to dominate the sound of the band. I like a very full, very harmonious sound.”
And just like any bandleader worth their salt, Lacocque is happiest when everybody gets a turn in the spotlight.
“Our guitar player, Billy Satterfield, is an unbelievable guitar player and I love it when he takes charge and I love it when Carl Weathersby plays with us and we have two guitar players up on stage,” said Lacocque said. “That really excites me when they take over and do their thing. That’s the spirit of mutual respect and adding to the sound of the proceedings. No one is saying, ‘Look at me …I’m the show.’ After all, we are a family on and off the stage and I try and make sure that all the members of the family are happy.”
One thing – something not entirely
planned, as well – that Mississippi Heat has became known for over the
years, is having an amazing female vocalist front and center for the
“It became a conscious decision in time, but not in the earlier years,” he said. “In the earlier years, Robert Covington was my lead singer. He was an incredible singer and a very dear friend of mine. But he had health issues that forced him off the road. So our bass player at the time – Bob Stroger – told me about a friend of his that didn’t have much work at the time. That friend was Deitra Farr. So that started a tradition of a female singer right there. She stayed for a few years and we did a couple of albums together, before she went on with her own career. That’s when we decided that we had such a unique sound with a female singer, so that’s the path we’ve traveled down ever since. And now Inetta’s been with us for about 11 years. She is such an amazing person and just has unbelievable depth as a singer. And our chemistry is just so strong together. I’ve always been fortunate to have had such great chemistry with all of our singers.”
Another crucial element of survival in the music industry is the relationship between a band and its record label. And on that front, there seems to be plenty of positive chemistry between Mississippi Heat and Delmark Records.
“Delmark has been extremely gracious, especially on this one, as far as giving me time and whatever else I need to make a successful album. I called them and said I was ready to come in and make an album and they said, ‘Great. Just tell us what day you want to come into the studio and get started.’ And that was it. That was all the negotiations we went through,” he said. “I wanted to use Michael Freeman, who is a Grammy award winner, as my co-producer on Delta Bound and they said ‘yes.’ They gave me the green light to bring back Billy Flynn and Deitra Farr, so basically Delmark gave me everything I needed to make this one as much of a winner as I could. And as an artist, that means the world to me. To me, that (label support) is more important than money. This is our fourth record for Delmark and I have a lot of respect for everyone at that label.”
Even though Lacocque is more than happy with the Mississippi Heat sound, he does occasionally fantasize about just tilting his head back and let his harp do the talking.
“One thing I have thought about over the years is doing an instrumental album, led by the harmonica,” he said. “I love melodies and I love to compose … I love (musical) hooks and things like that. So I have entertained the thought of maybe someday doing that. But it takes so much time to work on an album, that I always think I should devote that time to the band. But otherwise, the exciting thing for me is to write the songs and watch as they come alive in the hands of the band. The creative process is what really excites and inspires me.”
And for Lacocque, that creative process is full-speed ahead, seven days a week.
“Musically speaking, I never stop. Whether or not I’m getting ready to go into the studio and make a record, I’m always writing, musically,” he said. “And lately, I’m also been writing some lyrics, as well. But typically what I do is I never stop with the musical creativity. And then when it gets closer to time to go into the studio, that’s when I start thinking about lyrics and how the finished song will be.”
That’s a process that has served Lacocque and Mississippi Heat well over the past two-plus decades.
And what’s in store for the next two, when Mississippi Heat will turn 40?
“There are two things that will not change 20 years from now. One, I will still be creating music and two, I will still be playing music anywhere I can - over here in the United States and overseas,” said Lacocque. “A lot of my future depends on booking agents and things I can’t control, such as demand. But I would hope that 20 years from now we’re still in demand by audiences that want to hear the blues. I know that we’ll still be as excited to play the blues then as we are now.”
Photos by Bob Kieser © 2013 Blues Blast Magazine
Interviewer Terry Mullins is a journalist and former record store owner whose personal taste in music is the sonic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. Works by the Bee Gees, Captain Beefheart, Black Sabbath, Earth, Wind & Fire and Willie Nelson share equal space with Muddy Waters, The Staples Singers and R.L. Burnside in his compact disc collection. He's also been known to spend time hanging out on the street corners of Clarksdale, Miss., eating copious amounts of barbecued delicacies while listening to the wonderful sounds of the blues.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE.
Featured Blues Reviews 1 of 4
Shaun Murphy - Ask for the Moon
Vision Wall Records
In her forty year career, Shaun Murphy has had a number of high profile gigs including appearing in several Broadway productions as well as providing backing vocals for Bob Seeger and Eric Clapton before she joined Little Feat as a featured vocalist. Once she made the decision in 2008 to start a solo career, she has put out two critically lauded studio recordings and a live disc that provided a healthy dose of her potent live show.
Her latest offers a feast of great songs, stirring vocals and sympathetic instrumental backing. Right from the start Murphy's amazing voice grabs your attention and doesn't let go for over an hour. “Just Enough” is filled with her anguished cries as she attempts to free herself from the throes of a torrid love affair. Shawn Starski's echoes her pain with a stinging guitar solo. On the original “Heartless Man”, she is joined by Burton Garr Jr. for a vocal duet that paints a vivid portrait of a mistreated woman. Another tune Murphy wrote with Julie Black, “Why You Hurt Me So Bad”, continues focusing on emotional pain, tempered by Johnny Neel laying down lush accompaniment on the organ. Her sweltering rendition of “It's My Own Tears” makes that slow blues tune another stunning highlight.
Murphy switches gears and delivers plenty of humor on 'Ugly Man Blues”, her nimble voice taking great pleasure in describing the value of a man who looks like a “..mangy dog”. The title cut has a funkier groove with Murphy preaching about about hope while utilizing the entire spectrum of her remarkable vocal range. She sings with perfect control on “Forget About Me” and yet her voice crackles with intensity as she delivers a sen-off to an unfaithful lover. Tim Gonzalez provides some nice harmonica fills. Once the band is fully engaged on Burton Garr's “Mighty Long Road”, the track rocks hard with Boyd LeFan on bass and Daryl Burgess on drums laying down a solid backbeat before Jim Horn pushes things into overdrive with a hardy sax solo. The closing cut, “Get Away”, is a tough rocker with Starski playing a insistent guitar line while Murphy growls and purrs through a swaggering performance.
Five songs were written by Bekka Bramlett, the daughter of Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett and an amazing singer herself. Make sure you listen carefully to “Let's Talk About Love” and marvel how her voice intertwines with Murphy's to create a jubilant celebration that ends with a gospel flourish. “Go Home” is a relentless put-down as Murphy makes her disdain for cheating married man quite clear. The soulful ballad “Big Wheels” benefits from robust backing vocals on the chorus, courtesy of Murphy, Bramlett and Vickie Carrico. “What's In It For Me” features Kenny Greeenberg on guitar and more of Horn's hard-blowing sax behind Murphy's perfectly-phrased, sultry vocal.
As good as Murphy's other releases have been, this one surpasses all of them. It is simply a bravura performance throughout, with Murphy removing any doubt that she is one of the best of her generation. Few possess the power and range of her marvelous voice – and fewer still understand how to harness that talent to a razor-sharp focus capable of expressing the full gamut of human emotions. The year just started but this one is already on my “Best of the Year” list – making it highly recommended!
Reviewer Mark Thompson retired after twelve years as president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. and moved to Florida. He has been listening to music of all kinds for over fifty years. Favorite musicians include Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Magic Slim, Magic Sam, Charles Mingus and Count Basie.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Featured Blues Review 2 of 4
Sunny Crownover – Right Here Right Now
Shining Stone Records
11 songs – 40 minutes
Guitar master Duke Robillard was a guest artist at a seminar at Harvard University in 2007 when he first heard Sunny Crownover sing the Etta James classic “At Last.” He was immediately impressed by her ability to maintain her own relaxed style while maintaining the phrasing that made James such a unique talent. Robillard quickly realized he’d found the artist he’d been seeking for a project he’d been thinking about for years: an album celebrating the jazz stylings of female vocalists from the ’30s to the ’50s. That meeting resulted in the critically acclaimed release 2009 Stony Plains release, Introducing Sunny and her Joy Boys, and her appearance on two more Robillard CDs, the Grammy nominated Stomp! The Blues Tonight and Tales From The Tiki Lounge, Duke’s homage to Les Paul, on which she shares double billing.
This CD is a little Texas roadhouse, a little blue-eyed soul and a little West Side Chicago with a taste of Tin Pan Alley. A Texas native who’s been living in the Boston area for a decade, Sunny is backed by some of the best musicians in the business, including Robillard and his regular working band – the sensational Bruce Bears on keyboards, steady-driving Brad Hallen on bass and Mark Teixeira, a 2012 nominee for blues percussionist of the year by Drum! Magazine, on skins. An all-star cast of sidemen add to the mix, including Sugar Ray Norcia on harmonica, Doug James and Mike Tucker on sax, Doug Woolverton on trumpet and Billy Novick on clarinet. And Robillard has proven once again that he’s just as accomplished in the control room as a producer as he is with a six-string in his hands.
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame nominee Gary Nicholson teamed with Robillard to contribute six new tunes for this CD. His works have been recorded by a diverse range of artists, including Willie Nelson, B.B. King and Irma Thomas. Other songs were recruited from former Roomful of Blues bandmate Al Basile and through an appeal made to Duke’s Facebook friends. The album kicks off with Nicholson’s “Oh Yes I Will,” which displays Crownover’s Texas roots, a tune that tells the story of a woman dealing with a controlling man who doesn’t believe she can make it on her own. The minor keyed “One Woman Man,” penned by Brenda Burns, begins with a jazzy riff from Robillard and hard, steady drumbeat. “The first time you’ll learn/Is my love, my love and respect/Must be earned/No more love for free/You gotta do some work/Before you get it from me,” she insists, leaving no doubt.
Crownover and Norcia trade call-and-response between her vocals and his harp on the Chicago-flavored “Love Me Right.” The horn section and a crisp guitar line drives the uptempo “Right Here Right Now.” Norcia returns to drive the down-and-dirty “Roll Me Daddy,” in which Sunny testifies about her man’s prowess in the bedroom. The uptempo “Cook In The Kitchen” carries the message forward: “I want to cook in your kitchen/But I can’t stand the heat,” featuring Bears on the keyboard, whose work dominates the last few cuts on the CD. He contributes the musical lead on “High Heels And Home Cookin’,” which returns Crownover closest to her jazz stylings. The song also features a great clarinet solo by Novick. The mood changes again with the Chicago-flavored “Trust Your Lover” follows, with Duke on slide. A soulful version of Joe Tiven’s “Can’t Let Go” concludes the project.
The debut effort on Robillard’s new Blue Duchess imprint, this totally enjoyable CD firmly launches Crownover into the blues mainstream.
Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. His first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Blues Society News
Maximum of 175 words in a Text or MS Word document format.
South Florida Blues Society - Coral Springs, FL
Annual South Florida Blues Society Pre-LRBC (Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise) party!!will be held on Saturday at 8:00pm, January 19, 2013 at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport Hilton Hotel, 1870 Griffin Road Fort Lauderdale, FL (954) 920-3300 Doors and Cash Bars open @ 7:30 pm Admission: $10.00. The party features The 44'S from10:00 pm – 1:00 am and Otis Cadillac & The El Dorados with the Sublime Seville Sisters from 8:00 - 9:30 pm.
There is also a Pre-party "Happy Hour" Poolside w/Clay Goldstein & Julius Sanna Duo (aka ToST “The Other Side Of The Tracks) from 5:00 - 7:00 pm. http://soflablues.org
Prairie Crossroads Blues Society - Champaign/Urbana, IL
Prairie Crossroads Blues Society presents Jerry Lee & The Juju Kings on Saturday, January 19th at Memphis on Main, 55 East Main Street in Champaign, Illinois. The band is scheduled to take the stage at 9:30 p.m. Admission is $5 or $3 for blues society members.
The event is a fundraiser for the band who won our local competition and will represent PCBS at this year’s International Blues Challenge January 30 thru February 2 in Memphis, Tennessee.
Based out of Dwight Illinois, Jerry Lee & The Juju Kings is a four piece band consisting of guitar, bass, drums and piano whose high energy performances feature a combination of traditional blues and rock mixed together to create one incredible sound. The band released “Mojo Palace,” a few years back and is busy working on material for their next release.
Local favorite The Susan Williams Band another proud PCBS supporting band will open the show at 8 p.m. For more information about this event or the blues society go to www.prairiecrossroadsblues.org.
The Great Northern Blues Society - Wausau, WI
The Great Northern Blues Society is having our annual fundraiser known as the “Blues Café” on 3/9/13 in Rothschild, WI (near Wausau, WI)
Doors to the Rothschild Pavilion (1104 Park Street, Rothschild, WI) open at noon, music starts at 1:00PM with 10 hours of non-interrupted Music featuring Donnie Pick & the Road Band, Kilborn Alley Band, Grady Champion, Magic Slim & The Teardrops. Corey Stevens and Robert “One-Man” Johnson will be playing Acoustic Sets between main stage acts. There will be 4 Food vendors on site, with Cold Adult Beverages.$17 in advance - $22 at the door. For general information, and Ticket information go to – www.gnbs.org.
Minnesota Blues Society, St. Paul, Mn
Road To Memphis Fund Raiser @ Whiskey Junction (901 Cedar Ave S., Mpls, Mn, 612-338-9550) Sunday, January 20, 2013, 3 - 7 pm.
This is our last big push to raise money to help Crankshaft & the Gear Grinders and Kildahl & Vonderharr offset their travel expenses when they represent Minnesota at the 2013 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN. Harold Tremblay has assembled a musical lineup of past IBC participants including: Good Time Willy w/ John Franken, Papa John Kolstad& Hurricane Harold, Javier & the Innocent Sons, Kildahl & Vonderharr and Crankshaft & the Gear Grinders. $10.00 suggested donation More info @ www.mnbs.org
There will also be a silent auction event. If you would like to help with the silent auction, please contact Chad@mnbs.org.
The Dayton Blues Society – Dayton, Ohio
The Dayton Blues Society presents the 5th Annual Winter Blues Showcase January 26th at Gilly’s in downtown Dayton. Featured acts are 2012 DBS Blues Challenge winners The Dave Muskett Blue Show (Solo/Duo) and Blue Sacrifice (Band). This year’s headliner will be none other than The Kinsey Report. Tickets are $15 for members and $20 for non-members. For more details and to purchase tickets go to www.daytonbluessociety.com.
Crossroads Blues Society - Rockford/Northern Illinois
On Sunday, January 27th Crossroads is holding a fund raiser for Hurricane Sandy and the Blues Hall of Fame. It will be at 3 PM in the American Legion Hall, 116 N Union St, Byron, IL. This will be a fun day of music, auctions, raffles and fun. Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin' Altar Boys along with Westside Andy Linderman will be performing. $10 suggested donation to get in. Come support the hurricane relief and HOF.
Then on Monday January 28th, Reverend Raven and Westside Andy will be performing for two area schools as part of Crossroads Blues In The Schools program. They will spend and hour at each of two schools in the AM and PM. For more info see www.crossroadsbluessociety.com.
DC Blues Society - Washington, DC
Keep your dancing shoes handy because ObamaRama II: The Final 4 takes place on Saturday, January 19 at 8 PM at American Legion Post 41, 905 Sligo Ave. Silver Spring, MD 20910 (entrance on Fenton by public parking garage). Our red, white & Blues pre-inaugural blow-out features Fast Eddie & the Slowpokes (DCBS' 2013 IBC entrant), the DC Blues Society Band and special guests. Tickets: $10 members (advance)/$12 (door) ~ $12 non-member (advance)/$15 (door). Proceeds help defray travel expenses to IBC for Fast Eddie & The Slowpokes. Info & tickets: www.dcblues.org or call 301-322-4808.
The River City Blues Society - Pekin, IL
The River City Blues Society (RCBS) presents Jimmy Nick & Don’t Tell MaMa on Friday January 25 from 7:30 pm – 11:00 pm at Goodfellas 1414 N. 8th St. Pekin, Illinois. Admission: $6.00 general public or $4.00 Society Members. Also RCBS presents Harper & The Midwest Kind on Wednesday February 8 from 7:00 pm – 13:00 pm at Goodfellas 1414 N. 8th St. Pekin, Illinois. Admission: $6.00 general public or $4.00 Society MembersFor more info visit: www.rivercityblues.com or call 309-648-8510
Illinois Central Blues Club - Springfield, IL
The Illinois Central Blues Club presents "Blue Monday" every Monday night for the last 25 years - BLUE MONDAY SHOWS - Held at the Alamo 115 N 5th St, Springfield, IL (217) 523-1455 every Monday 8:00pm $3 cover. January 14 - Kilborn Alley, January 21 - Groove Daddies, January 28 - Alex Jenkins, Feburary 4 - Robert Sampson & Blues Gumbo, Feburary 11 - Victor Wainwright, Feburary 18 - Hurricane Ruth, Feburary 28 - Lionel Young, March 4 - Brandon Santini, March 11 - Eddie Snow Birthday Tribute w/ Bill Evans, March 18 - TBA, March 25 - JP Soars. More info available at icbluesclub.org
Featured Blues Review 3 of 4
Kenny Lavitz – Flipside of the Blues
13 tracks / 46:04
Though the blues originated in the Deep South, these days you will find it coming from pretty much every corner of the globe. Over the last year I have seen a lot of great new music coming out of the Pacific Northwest, and Flipside of the Blues from Kenny Lavitz is no exception.
Kenny Lavitz is a guitarist and singer who has been working out of Portland, Oregon for the past few decades. He is originally from the New York/New Jersey area, and his musical journey has led him through stints in Miami, at the G.I.T. in Los Angeles, and five years of touring with his own band before settling down in PDX. This experience has provided him with a wealth of knowledge, and you can clearly hear his mastery of the guitar. And, of course, his background in latin and jazz always make his music more interesting.
Flipside of the Blues is Kenny’s third CD, and his first since 2005’s Too Many Hats. He wrote all thirteen of the tracks on this disc, and has done a nice job of integrating horn parts into the mix. Chipping in on this effort are Dave Fleishner on keys, John Hughes on bass, and Rudy Battjes on drums and percussion. The respectable horn section consists of Tim Bly, Renato Caranto, Pete Moss, and Paul Mazzio. Battjes was also responsible for recording and mixing, and co-produced the album with Lavitz.
Right from the start, listeners will find that this is a fun record. There is a blues base to most every song here, but the way Lavitz mixes in different styles (and that fabulous horn section) to create a glorious funk really does make this the flipside of the blues -- it is not just a clever title! The first tracks “What You’re Doing” and “Fish Won’t Bite” are delightful in different ways, the first with a hard 2 and 4 beat, the latter with a bar-room piano in the background. “Get a Little Funk” has a wonderfully punchy round bass line and a tight organ part that doubles up with and then plays off of Kenny’s slick guitar work.
Legendary New York City guitarist C Lanzbom appears on two tracks: “Hard Times” and “Get Up.” I am not sure who gets credit for which parts that are being played, but he works well with Kenny, and the end result is hard-core slide work and Hendrix-inspire wah pedal work in these songs. I was surprised to see his name come up on the liner notes, as he is not exactly located next door to Portland.
The lyrics of the songs are thoughtful and run the gamut, and my favorite ones from the album are found in “On Her Way,” which he dedicates to his daughter. I was expecting a corny ballad, but instead got to hear a lively celebration of the maturing of his daughter – you can certainly hear the pride in his voice.
Kenny gave the horn players a rest and drove out of the funk groove for the last three tracks on the CD. “Turtles, Frogs and Snakes” is a hard rocking Texas boogie that makes me picture early ZZ Top. Greg Sommers lends a sweet harmonica tone on the instrumental “Association,” and this fits in nicely over Lavitz’s jazzy guitar. And the CD wraps up with a two minute track, “Another Another Day,” which is full of rockingly fat delta-style slide guitar. There is a lot more than funk going on here, for sure.
I like this album, and though is not the usual straight-up blues album, I think that blues fans will dig the funky vibe and first-rate musicianship and writing that are found here. Just hearing his guitar work, Hughes’ bass and Battjes’ drums are worth the price of admission, and all the other good stuff found within is icing on the cake. Give it a listen, and see if you agree!
Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at www.rexbass.blogspot.com.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Featured Blues Review 4 of 4
Cassie Taylor - Blue
10 Tracks; 32 minutes
Cassie Taylor is a Colorado native and self-proclaimed “daughter of a bluesman.” Taylor is the offspring of noted bluesman Otis Taylor and she was a member of his band for about ten years playing bass and performing backup vocals. Cassie has begun a career of her own, recently participating in the Girls With Guitars project alongside Dani Wilde and Samantha Fish, and singing several tracks on Bluesmasters Volume 2. Her solo debut Blue highlights her singing, instrumental abilities and intelligent songwriting. Although she tours with her trio The Soul Cavalry, the band on Blue consists of Jeremy Colson on drums, James Rooster Olson on guitars and Steve Marriner on harp. Together they create a bold, textured body of work that doesn’t quite fit the blues mold.
The album starts off promising with upbeat, clean-tone guitars and a tight rhythm on “Memphis.” It’s a short song that never quite fulfills the promise. It’s a little too restrained, like it was caught in third gear when the clutch blew out. You keep waiting for the shift to high gear and it never comes. The same can be said for more than a few of the tracks.
“Memphis” gives way to the sultry “Spoken For” where Cassie Taylor’s seductive, breathy singing lets the protagonist think he might still have a chance. This seems to be the Cassie Taylor style of singing – the come-on, attempting to beguile and bewitch the listener - especially the male listeners - instead of impress them with dynamics, power or emotion. She sings too soft, even on songs like “Haunted” or “Make Me Cry.” “Haunted” should be more visceral. We should feel the pain and the despair and turmoil of being haunted by lost love. “Make Me Cry” has an insistent beat and grooving guitar line, but in Taylor’s voice there’s none of the anger or hurt implied by the lyrics. It sounds like the same “come up and see me” routine she uses on the other songs. The song starts off with the line “Hey asshole, I wrote you a song” but here’s no oomph, there’s no fire in the belly, and there’s no tangible connection to the subject matter. Taylor relies too much on the seductress act.
Overall, Blue is a one dimensional album but there are flashes of brilliance peppered throughout the set. James Rooster Olsen is a fine guitar player and his phrasing is impeccable. “Goodbye” features some fleet-fingered guitar work from Olsen and in “Make Me Cry” he lets it rip for a moment and captures the essence of the tune in a brief explosion of guitar fireworks. Cassie Taylor plays bass and piano and in “Disappointment” the shimmering chords and her sidewinder bass line evoke the empty desolate feeling described in the lyrics. The disc closes with the stunning “Waste of Time.” The soft-touch vocal delivery actually works perfectly on this one which takes a wistful look back on the last year of a tumultuous relationship. Here the delivery matches the content – it’s sad, it’s attracted, it’s dejected and it’s not altogether disappointed. This is the highpoint of this album and unfortunately it comes at the end.
It’s tough to categorize this music as blues. Blues takes many forms and has influenced nearly every form that has come after it. Some think that the blues should adhere to the formula and that it’s what you do with the formula that makes you great. Some think you can throw away the formula recreate the blues in your own image. I come down somewhere in the middle. There isn’t just one formula for blues, but there’s a point where the ingredients become too far removed from the original recipe that it becomes something new. I can’t honestly say I think Cassie Taylor has made a blues record, but it may appeal to blues fans. Cassie Taylor calls her musical style “NeoBlues” but abandoning the blues format and giving it a prefix does not make it blues. Cassie Taylor’s music is Poppy, Jazzy, and even dips into the Easy Listening well on occasion. There’s a reason a hot turnaround after 12 bars of raw feeling connects with so many people and there is none of that to be found on this release. There’s no grit to this record and it’s a shame and a sin. Minor keys and harmonicas don’t make it blues and it takes more than breathy kisses on the neck to connect with people for any meaningful outcome. Blue seems to hover in the Pop category where tedium is exalted and no one ever heard of Big Mama Thornton or Ma Rainey. Cassie Taylor has much more to offer and should put it to better use.
Cassie Taylor’s songs are good and her personal lyrics resonate with anyone who has ever loved, lost or lusted but her delivery falls flat. Maybe it was the producer’s decision, but her style was the same when she sang on The Bluesmasters Volume 2. There is definitely something here though and if she can overcome the coy vixen routine and sing with passion and depth, the combination with her stripped down arrangements and insightful lyrics will result in dynamic, lasting music.
Reviewer Jim Kanavy is the greatest guitar player in his house. He has been reviewing albums in his head for 30 years and in print since 2008, and is deeply committed to keeping the blues alive and thriving. For more information visit http://jimkanavy.com.
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